Before & After
What Is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a permanent condition of chronic swelling,
usually of an arm or a leg. This swelling is a result of damage to the lymph
system. The damage may be the result of cancer treatment, other trauma or it
could be genetic in origin. The condition of lymphedema is permanent. However,
the symptoms of lymphedema respond to treatment and the condition is
manageable. With proper treatment, lymphedema does not have to result in
disfiguring swelling or dangerous infections. Treatment of lymphedema
consists of a gentle form of massage called manual lymph drainage, combined
with compression therapy. This effective, clinically proven treatment uses no
drugs, has no side effects and can be learned by the patient for home-based
management of the condition.
Any surgery which requires lymph node removal puts the patient at risk for
development of lymphedema. In the treatment of breast cancer the risk of
developing lymphedema as a side-effect runs from 25% to a little over 40%
depending on the type of surgery required and other treatment factors. *
*from "Lymphedema Diagnosis and Therapy,"
What are the signs
and symptoms of the onset of lymphedema?
Swelling: Swelling of the
at-risk limb (the limb on the same side of the body as the cancer) will be
mild at first, and may appear as a tightness of the skin. The swelling could
appear first in the ankle or hand and gradually extend up the leg or arm.
Even though the swelling may seem to go away at first, do not ignore it!
Redness: The appearance of
rashes, redness or heat in the at-risk limb is a common symptom. The most
common complication of lymphedema is infection.
and heaviness in the limb: This feeling may precede any other symptoms, including
swelling. When this is the case it is called pre-clinical lymphedema.
not ignore the signs of lymphedema.
physician immediately if you have these symptoms.
have had lymph nodes removed as part of cancer treatment, or have had more
radical surgery, you may be concerned about developing lymphedema. This is a
legitimate concern. There are steps you can take to minimize the impact of
this condition on your life.
If you are already experiencing lymphedema, you should know that it is both
treatable and manageable. Great strides in lymphedema treatment have been
made in recent years, and you should be benefiting from the advances made in
Please contact me for more information if you are suffering from this
The treatment of lymphedema consists of a gentle form of
massage called manual lymph drainage. In between daily massages compression
bandaging is applied to reduce the volume of liquid and excess proteins in
the limb. This effective, proven treatment uses no drugs, has no side
effects, and a modified version can be learned by the patient for home use.
It is usually reasonable to expect that, over a period of time, a swollen
limb will be reduced to a size and shape that is near normal.
Is Lymphedema Preventable?
If you have had lymph nodes removed, you are at risk for the development of
lymphedema. While it is impossible to predict whether you will develop
lymphedema, it is possible to take steps to minimize the chances of
developing it, or delay the onset. Getting precise measurements of the
at-risk limb prior to the onset of any swelling will enable you and your
therapist to detect swelling as early as possible. This will allow you to get
treatment in the early stage of lymphedema, simplifying the treatment process
and shortening the course of intensive therapy. Also, a course of manual
lymph drainage therapy applied after surgery will assist in the development
of collateral lymphatic circulation, possibly preventing the onset of
After any trauma, transient (temporary) swelling is normal. If
this swelling persists longer than six weeks, it may be considered
problematic. If the swelling responds to finger-pressure by maintaining a
"dent" for more than 30 seconds, you should have the swelling
assessed by a manual lymph drainage therapist.
After most surgeries, regaining range of motion as soon as possible is
important. For example, after knee replacement surgery range of motion
exercises commence shortly after surgery. Quick resolution of swelling is
desirable even before the swelling becomes problematic. After breast cancer
surgery, range of motion exercises should also commence as soon as possible.
Following liposuction or cosmetic surgery, a course of manual lymph drainage
will reduce post-surgical swelling, decrease healing time and prevent
swelling from becoming problematic.